As Iraqi troops withdrew from Kuwait in February 1991, they set fire to more than 700 oil wells and dumped 1.4 billion barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf. Thick black smoke streaming from the Sabriyah and Ahmadi oil fields (north and south respectively) was carried for hundreds of kilometers. In this north-looking scene, low-level winds carry the plumes to the south. Observers on the ground related how the sky was blackened for weeks by smoke from the burning fires. Controlling the oil fires required specialists from around the world who extinguished the fires and capped all the wells within nine months.
Kuwait City is the gray area along the coast north of the burning Ahmadi oil field. The Tigris-Euphrates Delta juts out into the Persian Gulf in the top of the scene. The Middle East, especially the region in and around this scene, provides the world with much of its oil. Overall, it exports more than 21 million barrels per day and has estimated reserves of more than 667 billion barrels. Of that, Kuwait exports 2 million barrels per day and has estimated reserves of 94 billion barrels, or 10% of the world's known reserves (1998 values).
April 1991, image STS-37-152-91.